Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Winter Wonderland in April!


The snow is still coming down. It's quite pretty, actually. I decided to visit the Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor to admire and photograph the snowy scenery. It's hard to imagine that in just 2 to 3 weeks this place will be decorated with warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, orioles, and more. These are all 10-second exposures at ISO 200 with Noise Reduction on, taken in the dark. Nikon 1 V1, 10mm f4.5.










All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

LISP or VESP?


Lincoln's Sparrow

There have been numerous reports of Lincoln's Sparrows in the southern part of Wisconsin the past week or so, many coming to backyard bird feeders in the wintery weather. Though not all reports have included photographs, so far all the ones that have show Vesper Sparrows.

My FOY (April only) eBird LISPs for Pheasant Branch Conservancy:

2016-04-30 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2016-04-29 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2013-04-30 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2009-04-28 1 Mike McDowell Checklist
2007-04-29 1 Mike McDowell Checklist

Review:

Link: Lincoln's Sparrow

Link: Vesper Sparrow

If you think you have a Lincoln's Sparrow in your backyard, take a photograph of it, send it to me and I'll confirm it for you.

Lincoln's Sparrow © 2018 Mike McDowell

Where's Spring?



















Ah! Here it is:



American Robins © 2018 Mike McDowell

Monday, April 16, 2018

Going B&W?

"One day you stepped in snow, the next in mud, water soaked in your boots and froze them at night, it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry, it was weather that wouldn't let you settle."

― E.L. Doctorow



What wild north winds wrought upon Wisconsin ...



We got fairly lucky in the southern part of the state. My friends and family to the north reported over 20 inches of snow, and some places got 30! That's just crazy. Having said that, it really isn't that uncommon to have a mid-April blast of arctic weather. Back in 2014, a wintery revival provided an opportunity to obtain some of my best-ever Hermit Thrush photographs.



A man named Hiam, whom I had just met, asked if he could tag along with me during my Sunday hike along the creek corridor. I was more than happy to oblige. As a new birder, it was a great learning opportunity for him. He was having difficulty distinguishing differences between Hermit Thrushes, Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and a few other "little brown jobs," so I provided him with various identification strategies. Though I didn't point out everything I heard, the outing rendered 47 species. Hiam picked up a few life birds, too, though I don't recall which ones.



Sometimes I feel a temptation to go completely black and white with my photography, or somehow reinvent what I do in order to differentiate my work from clone blogs. Am I bored? There are valid reasons, like when shooting for black and white I tend to look at things differently―a particular mindset for setting out and seeing the world and light in a particular way. It certainly redirects the emphasis more so on composition, shapes, patterns, textures, and not necessarily subject portraiture. But there are so many exuberant colors in Nature, and that's a big part of the "wow" effect when people look at someone's photography. What would it be like to photograph tiger beetles only in black and white? Perhaps it's best just to mix it up a bit. Still, my creative sense wants to explore and cross new boundaries with photography.



No early April Louisiana Waterthrush this time!



The snowy weather did provide me with something new: I don't think I've ever observed so many Hermit Thrushes at the conservancy. Normally camouflaged with earth tones, they were far easier to detect as they flew and foraged against the white wintery backdrop. It does make one ponder just how many birds don't get counted during an outing because they're silent and unseen.



Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 15, 2018 2:15 PM - 4:00 PM
47 species

Canada Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
American Coot
Killdeer
Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Duration

"Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted, creativity grows, and legends bloom; faith in oneself is the rain that cultivates a hero to endure the storm, and bare the genesis of a new world, a new forest."

― Mike Norton



This blog had a blogiversary on February 23rd and I totally forgot about it. So, for thirteen years I have been writing about the birds of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. To be sure, there are other minor subjects I enjoy blogging about: tiger beetles, cool diptera (flies), astronomy, wildflowers, etc., but birding at my neighborhood conservancy has been the primary objective for gathering and publishing content on this blog.

I believe I previously mentioned I first began hiking Pheasant Branch's trails in 1986. I lived in an apartment on Amherst Road in Middleton and meditatively explored nature to reduce the stress of my computer programming job. No camera. No binoculars. No field guide. I didn't know the names of most things, but I've always been a good observer. Wow―32 years. If I can do that again I'll be 84 years old. Should I live so long, many people I bird with now will be long gone. I've already said farewell to a few, but George Austin is dearly missed. His enthusiasm for birding made it exciting for everyone around him.


Hermit Thrush

Nowadays it's a completely different experience. Long durations of intimacy with nature have been replaced by shorter moments punctuated with a multitude of interruptions. The birds still come and go, but there are far more non-birding trail users to share the conservancy with. Dottie Johnson and I refer to them as Muggles in the J.K. Rowling sense. Perhaps the most Muggle-y thing a Muggle has ever said to me was "There's wildlife in here?" Yep. There truly is. That's what I've tried to show on this blog for the past decade-plus.

On account of today's totally crappy weather, I had the creek corridor trail pretty much to myself. Dressed in layers plus rain gear, I hiked my usual route and counted the birds. As I generally do, I detected their presence by listening for their calls and songs.


Eastern Phoebe

I found an Eastern Phoebe perched on a skinny twig shooting up from the middle of a pond. Watching it through my spotting scope, I could see it was catching some kind of midge. While small numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers are present, I have yet to hear one sing this spring. So far it's been their recognizable "chep" calls only!


Yellow-rumped Warbler

The lighting was extremely poor for digiscoping, so I didn't take very many bird photographs. Soon, there was more rain and falling temperatures ... and then sleet. Despite the challenges of this outing―and all the visits that preceded it―there is always something to bring me peace of mind at the conservancy. With no sunlight there are no shadows, and sometimes that is a very good thing.





Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 14, 2018 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
44 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shorebird









Stricker's Pond, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 12, 2018 5:40 PM - 7:01 PM
36 species

Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Greater Yellowlegs
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch

© 2018 Mike McDowell

Shame!

There are eBirders out there who subscribe to eBird Alerts but have their own checklist data set to:

[X] Hide my data from Recent Visits
[X] Hide my data from eBird Alerts
[X] Hide my data from the Top 100

"I want to be able to chase what everyone else finds, but I don't want anyone to chase what I find!"

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Yikes! FOY YRWA

"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."

― W.B. Yeats



As expected, spring bird migration was stalled over the weekend. I don't expect to observe an avian upswing until later this week. Looking back through past early April blogs, already by this time Bloodroot and Pasque Flowers were open as well as spring ephemeral wildflowers at Baxter's Hollow in the Baraboo Hills. Opening temps on Saturday morning were in the mid-teens with wind chills dipping into single digits. Yikes! This is astonishingly cold for early April in southern Wisconsin. I joked on social media that this is the last time this spring I'm going out with hand and toe warmers. Bundled up for winter weather, hiking eastward with the wind along the creek corridor trail was tolerable, but I knew it wasn't going to be as much fun going back.


Yellow-rumped Warbler

Protected by a ravine, the creek corridor is somewhat blocked from wind. Still, I was ready to call it a morning in just under two hours of birding. Despite the unseasonably cold weather, I managed to find my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of spring migration―a rather drab individual. I heard its familiar check check chip notes and zeroed in on its location above me in the treetops. From experience, I know this species can handle the cold, but I do worry about any Tree Swallows that have returned. There wasn't a single phoebe to be found, either.


Pine Siskin

Pine Siskins continue to be numerous.


Carolina Wren

And the Carolina Wren was undeterred.


Brown Creeper

Here in Wisconsin, it's easy to cope with cold weather like this with a dash skepticism regarding anthropogenic climate disruption, as if we so easily forget that to our north there are extremely cool conditions this time of year. If northwest winds prevail, we're going to get a taste of that arctic air until another pressure system brings up warm gulf air. Nevertheless, the annual average global temperature continues to rise and all-time highs are beating out all-time lows. By the end of this week, temperatures will be back in the 50s and 60s. That'll bring the birds back!





Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 7, 2018 10:00 AM - 11:51 AM
39 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell

Friday, April 06, 2018

Cold Weather Continues



Weather throughout most of the Midwest hasn't been conducive to bird migration the past week. Strong northwest winds have been keeping most migratory birds to our south. The weekend forecast looks pretty bleak for birding, but I'll likely hit the trail anyway.



Some Madison area birders have been finding a few Hermit Thrushes, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but numbers are well below normal for this time of year. Hopefully warmer temperatures coming the following weekend will bring more birds our way!


Yellow-rumped Warbler observations, first week of April. 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A Cold April Begins!

"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain."

― T.S. Eliot


Home Base

This was the view out my bedroom window early Saturday morning: cold, windy, rainy, and very monochromatic. I checked radar and waited for the wet weather to end before heading out to the confluence pond along Deming Way. Once there I found my first of year (FOY) Great Egret huddled at the far end of the pond. The big white bird looked a bit like it wished it had stayed south a little longer. Winds were out of the south during the night, so temperatures eventually reached into the forties. However, by the end of the day northwest winds prevailed, bringing in cold air once again.


Great Egret

I spent part of Saturday and Sunday birding along the creek corridor for spring migrants. New arrivals included Blue-winged Teal, Purple Finch, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and more Eastern Phoebes. But before I get into that, here are some photographs of Common Loons at the northwest corner of Lake Mendota:


Common Loon













And now back to the creek corridor ...



Shy Fox Sparrows could be heard singing their melodious songs throughout the corridor, but none could be found within the range of my lens. In jest, they're about the same color as this pine cone! Most were too far back in the understory or too obstructed for photographs. In general, I have an easier time photographing Fox Sparrows during fall migration at the prairie.


Wood Duck (female)

Sunday's introductory temperature was 18° Fahrenheit ― pretty chilly for the first day of April. I entered the corridor trail from the west end near the Big-tooth Aspens. There, I found three Wood Ducks perched in the trees: two females and a single male. I do wish they wouldn't make such a fuss whenever they see people on the trail below. However, I did notice that those with dogs were given harsher warnings from the male.


Carolina Wren

Traveling east, I eventually I crossed the trail at Park Street. Not far after the first bridge I heard a Carolina Wren singing away. No doubt, the same wren I photographed a few weeks ago. There is another pair north of Century Avenue near the Conservancy Condos, but that's too distant to be the same birds. This particular male was perched atop a large dead tree, broadcasting his cheerful song throughout the bowl carved out of the ravine by decades of erosion. It's sort of like having its own acoustical amphitheater. Too bad the juncos weren't listening. But the wren's mate was! I found her perched on a branch several feet below him. Eventually both birds hopped down to the understory to resume foraging ... or perhaps nest maintenance ... or maybe something else.



I mean he is a fine looking bird, after all!


Golden-crowned Kinglet

Want a serious challenge? Try digiscoping a kinglet! These were among my first Golden-crowned Kinglets of spring migration. Despite chilly temps, the kinglets were quite active in the understory during early morning; some were foraging through grass along the corridor hiking path. Watching them carefully, they definitely seemed to be finding food items. They'll make it!

Let's slow things down ...





Tweeze and munch!



Seriously, what luck to record a series of images of a kinglet feeding. See? They really can find food in super-cold weather! Not unlike Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers, the kinglets probed through dead leaves on branches for concealed arthropods. If you carefully look at the third photograph in this series, you can see the bird successfully locates a tiny morsel.

And finally ... look who has little ones!


Great Horned Owls

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
Apr 1, 2018 9:00 AM - 11:31 AM
36 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Mallard
Turkey Vulture
Cooper's Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay 
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2018 Mike McDowell